Are You Guilty of Vocabulary Abuse?

In my brief stint teaching college writing classes, one of the biggest problems I saw among my students was vocabulary abuse.

You know what I’m talking about. Instead of writing simply and clearly, they would “bulk up” their sentences with complicated words.

Example: “In her book Meadowlands, Louise Gluck shifts seamlessly between the present day and the time of Odysseus, creating the sense that time as we know it doesn’t exist” becomes “In her quixotic volume of verses Meadowlands, Louise Gluck interleaves the contemporary era and the Odyssean epoch, which constitutes a continuum of consciousness unoccupied by ordinary chronologies.”

Whew. What a mouthful.

And it’s not just college students who commit vocabulary abuse.

As Stephen King says in On Writing “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”

You can write well – as well as Hemingway or Steinbeck – without using “fancy” words with obscure meanings and multiple syllables.

Instead, stick to using the words that best convey what you’re trying to say – whether they have three letters or 25.

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